For the love of kathak

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Sumati Lekhi

In conversation with Sumati Lekhi of Swastik Institute of Dance, which is celebrating ten years of graceful twirls and beautiful expressions

Sumati Lekhi began her journey as a dancer at the age of eight with her first stage performance. She then went on to complete her Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in dance, and has been teaching dance since she was 21.

“It feels like I have been dancing forever,” says Sumati. With her parents having always been into performing arts, music and dance have been an integral part of her upbringing. Sumati says that dance is a fascinating medium which can convey so much just through body language. “You can emote with your eyes and describe your innermost emotions,” she says. Though dance can be challenging at times, this graceful, creative and ambitious art form can be immensely satisfying too. “When I’m completely immersed in it, it’s like meditation for me,” Sumati remarks.

“Sometimes there was just one student in the class. Some may call it a depressing start, but I loved it. Because I love Kathak”

Of all the various dance forms in India, Kathak fascinates Sumati the most with its glorious combination of mathematically precise footwork, graceful twirls, delicate hand gestures, sharp neck movements and beautiful expressions. To Sumati “It’s a beautiful marriage of precision and fluidity”. She has learnt Kathak from different teachers on different occasions. Dr Guru Jaswinder, a shishya of pandit Guru Rajendra Ganganiji, has been her main Kathak guru. Her gurus have inspired her with their dedication and she has imbibed from them the rich cultural heritage of the ‘guru-shishya parampara’. She has ensured that she passes on to her students not just the nuances of the art form but the tradition of Kathak as well.

Sumati started her school, Swastik Institute of Dance in 2007, in a crumbling back room above a restaurant in Harris Park. She started with just a handful of students. Sumati says, “Sometimes there was just one student in the class. Some may call it a depressing start, but I loved it. Because I love Kathak, and nothing gives me more pleasure than sharing it with others.”

Her reputation as a teacher, she says, slowly began to grow, and before long, she moved into a studio space in Harris Park, but soon had to move to a bigger studio as more students were walking in through the doors.

“I don’t care how young you are or how inexperienced you are… if you love Kathak, we have something in common and I will enjoy your company,” says Sumati. With more than 250 students, and with the numbers growing every day, Sumati is opening another studio in Blacktown.

Sumati’s only goal is “to spread the knowledge of Kathak and serve the art form long as she possibly can”, something that was inculcated in her from a very young age by her gurus.

In the past ten years there have been a few ups and downs but that has never deterred her. For her “stepping back is not an option”. Sumati considers her show ‘Magical Journey with Krishna’ that was staged at the Riverside Theatre last year to be the highlight of the last ten years. “It superseded all our expectations. It is a huge auditorium and it was packed with people. My parents were in town then—they were visiting from India. And I had to seat them in the last row, on the last few remaining seats as all tickets had sold out. It was a happy, humbling moment,” says Sumati with pride.

She considers herself blessed to have had Guru Pandit Rajendra Gangani, one of the leading practitioners of Kathak (from the Jaipur Gharana), known for his innovative style and technical wizardry in Sydney on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the school. He mesmerised the Sydney audience with his performance at the Riverside Theatre on 28 October.

 

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